birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Landlocked and Homesick

“In the end, climate always brings us back home.” [Don’t actually quote me on that quotation, as it is a probably now butchered paraphrase; I tried to track it down again but only ended up with a bunch of abysmal links on climate change. But I cherished this nugget so much in college that I blurted it to the flight attendant once when I was flying back home for the holidays. Cleveland —> San Diego, incurably landlocked and homesick.]

Hometowns are where you can drive through a neighborhood you haven’t glimpsed in decades and still know all the shortcuts without even trying to remember. All the abbreviations and nicknames of places that everyone local uses and knows, you will also always reflexively say. “Which high school did you go to?” You may question a new acquaintance, when you learn that they are from where you are from. Or, as the conversation escalates, “Which elementary school?” The paint jobs and established commercial landmarks and secret parking spots may change—though, it feels a unique triumph to discover that they have not—but what endures about one’s hometown is the way the light glints on familiar street signs and the way the slang still sounds: the way it always has. That identical tone and rhythm of people greeting one another, in their shared native style…The neighborhood characters who become caricatures of local culture, personified…Everybody’s classic snacks, pastimes, radio stations’ identifications… The same exact vegetation or exact same mature trees. Being able to anticipate the weather's behavior like a relative’s. At least it’s that way for me.

I grew up in San Diego, “west of 1-5.” I went to Pacific Beach “P.B.” Elementary on Tourmaline Street, five blocks from the Pacific Ocean. As a toddler, I took some of my first steps on the sand. As a kid, I spent almost every single day playing outside, at recess and after school. As a teenager, I borrowed wetsuits from my friends’ little brothers to learn to surf and then flirted with their older brothers at the bonfires on those same beaches. To this day I’m still the first person to complain about feeling cold or hot when the temperature respectively drops or rises beyond 67-77 degrees. I know this tendency lands me somewhere between sensory “disadvantage” and “character flaw.” My husband, originally from Chicago, bemoans how his two daughters are growing up in Los Angeles thus similarly maladapted and weak.

I did my time in the midwest. Yeah, the WINTERtime. In the dear Ohio town where I waitressed and went to school, people would ask me (because I talked about it incessantly) “If you love California so much, why did you leave?” I always replied that it was because I loved California so much that I had to leave. I wanted it to be like Tom Waits! “Never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long.” I left to not find the conformity of San Diego, “the fittest city in America,” repugnant. I left to pine for the beach I realized I had taken for granted.

At Oberlin College I created an independent American Studies major to research (what else?)
Regionalism. I compared the Midwest and the Southwest, to try to answer my questions: How are we products of our geo-cultural environments? How does growing up surrounded by mountains, or surrounded by skyscrapers, ultimately affect our world view? Does familiarity breed contempt, or chauvinism? Can you take the boy out of Texas but not take the Texas out of the boy, for real?

I thought I left southern California for good when I moved away in 1996. But it’s almost November and another gorgeous afternoon in Los Feliz, CA. In the end, climate always brings us home.

Three Hometowns

No Hometown